For the past six months or so, the sudden increase in gay teen suicides has led to a societal discussion regarding the harmful (even fatal) effects of bullying in school. While many organizations have joined forces and resources to raise awareness on this tragic issue, Kylie Johns and Ayden Mace are providing LGBT youth with a life-saving resource to use in difficult times: art. With The Pride Project, the two partners are promoting the idea that having an expressive outlet in harsh times – whether it is in the form of painting or the creation of Gay-Straight Alliance groups – can be a game-changer. In addition, Kylie and Ayden are out to educate the audience about transgender people and common misconceptions about a very discriminated-against community.
With the recent spike in suicides among LGBT youth, many organizations were formed to combat bullying. What is The Pride Project and how does it differ from other non-profits?
Ayden: The Pride Project is about using art as a way to combat LGBT bullying, hate, homophobia, and everything in between. As we’ve seen, the bullied youth of today’s society has resorted to self-harm and suicide as a way to get out of the situation. Via The Pride Project, we can reach out to the youth to let them know that it does get better: through the encouragement of forming Gay-Straight Alliance groups in high schools, the positive encouragement of art, and the connections you can make through art instead of suicide. These kids need to know that they can get through and that they are not alone.
Let’s talk about your personal background: who are Kylie and Ayden and how did you both decide to work together?
Kylie: At 21 and 22 years old, we are both passionate, strong-willed, artistic members of the LGBT community. I moved from California to Oklahoma at the end of 2008 in hopes of gaining a different perspective on the world, and mostly to try a new experience. Ayden, who was then Lindsay, had moved from Texas to Oklahoma four years prior to attend Oral Roberts University. Our paths crossed, but it wasn’t until the end of 2009 that we decided to be together as partners. It was when we moved back to California together in the beginning of 2010 that Ayden first came out to me as a transgendered male. We decided to document his transition in hopes of helping others, as watching videos helped us with his transition immensely. Working together on the project has been a blessing. We both care for the LGBT community and love to take a stand for those who do not have a voice.
Tell me about one experience that has shaped your life and fueled your determination as activists?
Kylie: Neither of us have one specific defining moment. Being a part of the LGBT community, we face constant ridicule, rejection, and hate. Unfortunately, the world is still blind and the act of segregation is still strong with the gay community. That being the case, the day-to-day struggle we see the community face is all the “fuel” we will ever need to keep our fight strong.
With 37 videos uploaded, you use YouTube as a way to communicate your message and convey the mission of The Pride Project – how has the users’ response been?
Ayden: We started our “Trans.Code” YouTube account to help others in their curiosity about being transgendered. The Pride Project was formed after and we used it as a way to start getting our non-profit’s name out in the world. With any cause worth fighting for, there will always be something or someone you’re fighting against. Though most of our feedback is all positive from our supporters, of course we get those far and few that disagree, or even yet “hate us” for what we’re doing. But it doesn’t matter, for every one person who’s negative, we have about 50+ that support us. All of their love keeps us strong in what we’re doing.
Ayden, what is the most frequent question or misconception you get as a transgender person?
Ayden: The question I get almost every day is, “How did you come out to your friends and/or family?” Funny thing is, it was an accident. My mom – whom I very seldom talked to due to her disapproval of my sexuality – had been secretly watching our videos, so unfortunately found out that way. The following phone call was not a pleasant one to say the least, but hopefully we can slowly start making progress. As far as the most common misconception, I would have to say that it’s that we (transgendered men) are any different from any biological male. It’s my belief that you are how you feel. Your “sex” is what you’re born as, male vs. female, what the doctors stamp on your birth certificate. But “gender” is what’s in your mind and/or your heart. People try and use the male reproductive organ as an opposing point, but my only question back is, “What about the biological men who lose their testicular region for one reason or another? Does it mean that they are no longer a male?” I never seem to get replies back on that one.
The Pride Project uses art as a way for high school students to express themselves. Do you really think that art has the power to save lives, and if so, why?
Kylie: Since Ayden and I have both been to the point of wanting to end our lives and art was the one thing that kept us going, we can confidently say that because it saved our lives, we know it can do the same for others who are so close to death. Art, in one form or another, allows the artist to release any sort of emotion – good or bad. By having an outlet in which the kids can take any sort of negativity that they face and release it through self-expression, it will in turn keep them from self-harm or even suicide.
Tell us a bit about your future projects – where would you like to see your “baby” go and what events do you have planned?
Ayden: Our big event for the moment is on January 18, 2011, at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. We have had art donated by many of our supporters and we will be holding a silent auction for the art to raise money so that we may become established in California as a legal non-profit organization. Whitney Mixter from The Real L Word will be speaking, as will Ayden and I. We have supporters on our YouTube account from Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, England, all over the world saying that we have helped them in some way or another. So our heart lies not only with the LGBT youth of America, but the LGBT youth of the world. We are determined to one day make The Pride Project a worldwide non-profit.
Finally, how can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success? Is there anything that your nonprofit needs at the moment?
Kylie: Hopefully, after the USC event we can become legally established by the state, at which time we will be accepting donations. We are in the process of creating a website, but for now our facebook page can be found under ThePrideProject. We are hoping to post the beautiful artwork of the community on our website, so anyone willing to send us their art to be displayed may contact us there. We also have a website to raise money, where all of the proceeds go to The Pride Project. As far as anything else, we love the support of our community, so those who just pass the word around do just as much for us!